Because I’m a sports fan, this has always been one of my favorite times of the year: We are celebrating the return of baseball, with many teams having their home Opening Day this week.
Now what do baseball and insurance have in common? A lot more than you might think, actually. As a baseball fan I enjoy reading about—without fully comprehending—some of the advanced statistics available to fans and baseball insiders, represented in large part by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR). These “sabremetricians,” as they are known, do have something in common with insurers. They take huge amounts of data and turn it into actionable information.
While many baseball fans remain skeptical of or outright reject the use of advanced statistical formulas, executives in the insurance world, fortunately, are hungry for this information and are convinced that getting a 360-degree view of their customer—both agents and policyholders—is worthwhile. They actively take this information and turn it into strategies for attracting new business, rejecting old business and sorting through claims.
One reason baseball fans shy away from some of these statistics is because they are an arrogant and obdurate lot. They feel they know the game from watching and playing it for years, and their eyes tell them more than statistics. There is something to be said for instincts, but you can’t let gut feelings rule what your mind knows is probably wrong.
For example, many baseball fans love what is known as small ball: using the sacrifice bunt to move a baserunner from first to second base, but giving up an out to do so. But how smart is this strategy?
As one of my favorite baseball writers, Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated notes, “They have been playing baseball for more than 100 years. And for more than 100 years, more runs have scored with a man on first and nobody out than with a man on second and one out. This has been true every single season for more than 100 years. Every single one.”
But despite this overwhelming statistical evidence, managers continue to see the “wisdom” in bunting. Imagine if an underwriter consistently went with what his gut said, instead of what the numbers suggested—he’d be fired more often than Billy Martin and lose a lot more money than Alex Rodriguez makes in a year.
I’m glad it’s widely recognized that analytics has changed for the better the way insurers do business in all segments of the operation. Carriers value information so much they even brag about how much data they actually possess—and can obtain from third-party sources.
Analytics makes us smarter. If you’ve got some examples of how smart they’ve made you look—or how dumb they’ve made someone else look—please share them with us via e-mail or on our website.
Robert Regis Hyle